D. Harlan Wilson’s excellent book on J. G. Ballard

Book Review by Bill Ectric

Bill Ectric holding J. G. Ballard book by D. Harlan Wilson

Bill Ectric holding J. G. Ballard book by D. Harlan Wilson

D. Harlan Wilson has made a literary mark in the field of cultural theory, focusing on the loss of humanity in the inescapable rush of accelerating technology, with books like Technologized Desire: Selfhood and the Body in Postcapitalist Science Fiction and Cultographies: They Live. While his fiction tends to be disorienting (a trait his fans enjoy), his non-fiction has the clarity and delivery of a seasoned educator, as in his most recent study of the life and work of J.G. Ballard. 

Ballard was a vital force in the British New Wave of science fiction whose novels and stories inspired the cyberpunk subgenre, but he is most famous for writing Empire of the Sun (1984) and Crash (1973), both of which became movies, directed by Steven Spielberg and David Cronenberg respectively. D. Harlan Wilson makes a convincing case that even Empire of Sun contains elements of science fiction.

Wilson writes brisk, lucid text that flows like quicksilver. Clearly respectful of Ballard as an author and a man, his new book analyzes Ballard’s singular style, dystopian themes, and sometimes disturbing plots in a relatively simple, but smart, well organized, and skillfully researched masterwork.

Wilson describes how Ballard was less interested in flying saucers, aliens, and outer space than he was in the inner space of our minds, as we become the future, with relentless input from the internet, television, radio, billboards, working and playing inside mega-malls, gated communities, and high-rise apartments. We are the cyborgs, perceiving reality as dictated to us by the very media we covet. Ballard explores how these conditions affect the evolution of life, society, sex, and death. His influences included surrealist painter Salvador Dali, psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, transgressive experimental “Beat” writer William S. Burroughs, and media visionary Marshall McLuhan, who predicted the Internet 30 years before it existed. Wilson demonstrates, with fascinating examples, how the landscapes and cities in Ballard’s novels are often extensions or reflections of his character’s mindscapes.

Critics have complained about the violence in some of Ballard’s books. Wilson says, “Ballard didn’t want to see it happen in the real world” and quotes Ballard’s explanation that “notions about the benefits of transgression in my last three novels are not ones I want to see fulfilled. Rather, they are extreme possibilities that may be forced into reality by the suffocating pressure of the conformist world we inhabit. Boredom and a deadening sense of total pointlessness seem to drive a lot of meaningless crimes.”

In 1924, Andre Breton described Surrealism as thought or art created in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern. This launched an array of weird, dreamlike paintings and theater. But on a darker note, Breton also said that the ultimate surrealist act would be “to go out into the street and fire a revolver at random into the crowd.” Chillingly, we recall Donald Trump’s words on the campaign trail in Iowa: “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters. It’s like, incredible.” As Ballard said way back in 1971, “Everything is becoming science fiction.”

If you are new to Ballard, this book is a good place to start. If you’re already familiar with the man’s work, you will appreciate what Jonathan Lethem calls “a new comprehensive standard.”

Read More at the website of D. Harlan Wilson

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Inside the Head of D. Harlan Wilson

D. Harlan Wilson Peckinpah Goatheads

 It is harder than you might think to write good Bizarro fiction. Practically anyone can conjure up a weird scene about people with goat heads or a beard crawling off someone’s face, but few can write about it with the crisply entertaining panache of D. Harlan Wilson. Wilson’s novel, Peckinpah  (2009, Shroud Publishing), is described by the legendary Alan Moore as “a bludgeoning celluloid rush of language and ideas served from an action-painter’s bucket of fluorescent spatter.”

Read reviews of Wilson’s books and you’ll see phrases like Cyberpunk, surrealism, irrealism, wicked humor, believe the hype, rollicking splatter flange, funhouse mirror, unnerving celebrity, clothes-lining tombstones, crazed precision, brain stem, Franz Kafka, guaranteed to never win the Pulitzer, Philip K. Dick, flashing LED sign hat-band, William S. Burroughs, and sci-kung-fi (hyphens mine). I especially like the Peckinpah review by JoSelle Vanderhooft in The Pedestal Magazine:

Wilson’s blood-bucket descriptions and wild imagination together would be enough to make Peckinpah a delightful Bizarro novel, and a pretty good parody of Peckinpah’s style (at least, as I understand it). But Wilson does not stop there; rather, he mixes camera angles, stage directions, and, most astonishingly, digressions into film criticism to make his novella not only a gleeful send-up/homage to Peckinpah’s work, but a thoughtful study of it. In fact, film school graduates (and first year English literature students) will probably note that Wilson has ingeniously woven a lampoon of the infamous “five paragraph essay” into his book, through five chapterlets about the “Theory of Ultraviolence.” At the beginning, these appear to be little more than aimless scene descriptions or puzzling non-sequiturs. But in the fourth theory, he pulls the theories and the entire book together.

Peckinpah: An Ultraviolent Romance

Wilson has a Master’s Degree in English from the University of Massachusetts-Boston, a Masters in Science Fiction Studies from the University of Liverpool, and a Ph.D. in English from Michigan State University. He is a professor of English at Wright State University-Lake Campus.

Cue the interview.

Bill Ectric: I really got a kick out of the video, The Cocktail Party. Can you tell me a little about the making of it, the collaboration between you and Brandon Duncan?

D. Harlan Wilson: The film is based on a story of the same name from my first published collection of short fiction, The Kafka Effekt. I can’t remember how Brandon and I got together. I think my publisher, Raw Dog Screaming Press, hooked us up. Yes. He illustrated the cover for my fiction collection Pseudo-City, a futuristic rendering of Rene Magritte’s Golconde, back in 2004, and thereafter we decided to collaborate on a short film, which he made for his MFA thesis in graphic design. The Cocktail Party had a lot of weird, visually dynamic potential. I wrote the screenplay for it and then Brandon and I did some editorial back and forth. He finally went to work. It took him a year or two, and the end product is a surreal, black-and-white, rotoscoped picture that, in my opinion, far outshines my story. It won a bunch of awards at various film festivals in 2007, among them an official selection at Comic-Con. There are more details at http://www.dharlanwilson.com/films.html. The film is also available on YouTube. Originally Brandon and I planned to collaborate on another film based on a story in Pseudo City, and I wrote a full screenplay, but it never happened. We both got too busy and the project slipped away. Brandon, however, has done a lot of other stuff for me, including illustrated author photos and book cover designs. And right now he’s doing some artwork for the third and final installment in my scikungfi trilogy, The Kyoto Man. A very talented guy. Check him out at www.corporatedemon.com.

Pseudo-City by D. Harlan Wilson    The Kafka Effekt

BE: As an English professor, do you tell students that before they write bizarro or irrealism, they first need to develop a solid foundation in writing basics? Or does it not work that way?

DHW: I actually don’t teach many creative writing courses. There’s only one right now, in fact, where I currently work, “Introduction to Short Fiction” and it’s purely online. Mainly I teach composition and American literature. In the short fiction course, I expose students to some transgressive stories, but I don’t require them to write in that vein. That’s the last thing beginners need to do. I try to give them a taste of everything and then encourage them to focus on the basics, as you say. They have considerable freedom and can more or less do what they want, but I’m concerned with instilling a command of things like description, character and plot, in that order. If nothing else, I want them to recognize the value of SHOWING over TELLING, i.e., using imagery and descriptive passages to propel their narratives, rather than exposition. Baisez-vous, Exposition!

BE: Something of yours was published in Japan recently. How did that happen? Have you been published in any other languages?

DHW: It was one of my stories, “Digging for Adults,” which originally appeared in my fiction collection Stranger on the Loose, published by Eraserhead Press. It came out in Japan in the August 2010 issue of Hayakawa’s Mystery Magazine. The folks at Eraserhead Press set it up. If I’m not mistaken, some of their other authors had been translated into Japanese and they pointed the editors of HMM in my direction. I’ve had stories translated into a few other languages – mostly Dutch, Spanish and Polish – but it was neat to see a Japanese translation of my work. I haven’t had a full book translated into another language yet. In 2012, a Mexican publisher, Verdehalago, will publish a Spanish translation of The Kafka Effekt.

Hayakawas Mystery Magazine

BE: Some of your stories, “The Arrest” and “Chimpanzee,” for example, seem to point out the transient, arbitrary nature of authority. Is that what you had in mind? Would you consider this a Kafkaesque notion?

DHW: Absolutely. I’ve always been interested in the vicissitudes and whimsical tyranny of the Law, à la Kafka. Virtually everything I write is about the misuses and abuses of power. It’s rampant. It’s always been rampant. Even in the most prosaic contexts, the absurdity of power exerts itself. For instance, the other day I was driving down the road past Walgreens, an American drug store. In the parking lot, tethered between two lampposts, was a giant banner that read: SHINGLES VACCINE AVAILABLE HERE. The fact that there’s a banner like that waving in everybody’s face indicates that there’s some sort of shingles outbreak or epidemic, right? So maybe I have shingles. So maybe I have to get a vaccine. So maybe I should go into that Walgreens and pay to get well . . . The Law. It’s ubiquitous and rears its head in all kinds of ways. It’s not just about G-men showing up at your door to inform you that you’re on some shit list. I guess I’s human nature, and that’s why I’m preoccupied with it. We want to maintain a sense of control and yet we want to be controlled, by words, by images, by bosses, by bureaucratic assholes, by whatever. For me, the human condition is endless abyss of dumb absurdities waiting to me mined.

BE: Do you now, or have you ever, used the Gysin/Burroughs cut-up method in your writing?

DHW: Not formally. That is, I’ve never vomited words onto a page, folded the page over and attempted to connect the dots, etc. I was inspired by Burroughs when I began writing. Naked Lunch, The Soft Machine, etc. I had never read anything like that. The style of his writing appealed to me more than the content. Still, he functioned as a kind of gateway drug for me, introducing me to new possibilities and modalities of narrative invention. Like the cut-ups, my stories and novels employ significant fragmentation and alinearity and often function like cinema, in some cases even adapting the jargon of cinematic movement and spectacle. But as I get older I much prefer Burroughs’ later works (e.g. Cities of the Red Night), which exhibit such a crisp, fluid and rich use of language. When I go back to those formative cut-ups, all I see are artful renderings of sex acts.

BE: Have you ever read an old obscure text and been amazed at how it relates to a subject are interested in? Especially if you’ve only recently turned your attention to the subject?

DHW: Maybe, a long time ago. I used to be so enamored with literature, and I remember being in awe of virtually every book I read, new or old. That doesn’t happen much anymore. With a few exceptions, I’m hardly ever piqued by something I read. It’s all the same shit, the same formulas and/or artifices. I’m talking about fiction. Philosophy and literary theory still holds my attention. But I’m more interested in cinema and far likelier to be rapt by a film than a book. There’s more innovation and dynamism in cinema. Most books are just hundreds of plodding, empty pages punctuated by a few interesting passages. Bile.

DrIdentity   Kyoto Man

BE: Why do you think so many satirists, from Voltaire to Steve Aylett to you, use humor to such a degree, even in the midst of depicting the grievous condition of the human race?

DHW: Humor has less to do with the material than the author’s personal taste and desires. Humor can be tricky, too, because it’s so subjective, and there are so many different kinds, and it can be found anywhere, even in the most dramatic contexts. I think The Lovely Bones is hilarious, for instance. The film, I mean (I didn’t read the book). The premise is so fucking dumb, yet it’s treated so gravely from beginning to end. That’s high comedy, in my eyes. Anything with Marky Mark in it is funny, too. Of course, lots of other people disagree. As for combining humor with, say, dystopia, as in my novel Dr. Identity or Steve’s Novahead (among others), it’s a matter of pushing the limits of narrative and doing new, interesting, entertaining things. Steve and I both have a penchant for slapstick (viz., splatterschtick) comedy as well as a love of language, wordplay and world-building. We have different styles and means of execution, but I think the same key interests lie at the core of our author-flows.

BE: What is your favorite Sam Peckinpah film?

DHW: (answers without hesitation) Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.

End of Interview           Return to Interview Selection

Return to Bill Ectric’s Website

The Aylett Project: Rachel Kendall Interviews Bill Ectric

AylettCoverMedium72

Rachel Kendall of Sein und Werden interviewed me about the new collection of essays on the work of Steve Aylett, edited by me and D. Harlan Wilson. Here’ an excerpt:

Rachel Kendall: A number of writers in the anthology refer to Aylett as a writers’ writer. What does that mean to you, and do you think it is significant?
Bill Ectric: Serious writers do a lot of reading. We pay attention to style, theme, and plot. We’ve seen just about every variation of theme and plot imaginable. We’ve seen detailed flowery prose and terse compact sentences; romanticism, realism, modernism, postmodernism, and all manner of genres and sub-genres. Steve Aylett, apparently bored with what’s gone before, moves past it all, often in a humorous way. Other writers get it. It’s not that he disdains what has come before him, he just doesn’t want to read what seems to him as the same books over and over again. Here’s one example: A few years ago I got interested in astronomer/alchemist John Dee and his working relationship with spirit medium/occultist Edward Kelley. I read books, articles, and essays on these men. Much later, in the Appendix to Aylett’s Shamanspace, I found a single sentence that cracked me up with laughter, because it summarized everything I’d read about Dee and Kelley with, “Elizabethan alchemist John Dee witnessed the scarab star of god blooming with a creak from the wooden table at Clerkenwell – a vision immediately waylaid by the arrival of unwitting holy man Edward Kelley who wasted years of Dee’s time with useless signs and wonders.” It was like, that’s all you need to know! You know?  If I call someone a “guitarist’s guitarist” it means that because I play the guitar, I can see just what they are doing, even though I can’t do it myself. Maybe I can learn to do it, but I would have never thought of it.

Emanations 5

Emanations 2 + 2 = 5

Carter Kaplan has announced that, “Emanations: 2 + 2 = 5 is now in the final stages of production,” saying:

Here is a glimpse of the cover art by Ruud Antonius, taken from his painting The Fourth Plinth  (oil on panel, 100 x 80 cm).
Mr. Antonius is a Dutch painter who lives in the United Kingdom.  He has a large following in Europe where in the world of fine art surrealism enjoys greater support than it does in Britain and the United States.  Please click HERE to visit Mr. Antonius’s web site.

Here is the tentative table of contents:

Tales

ROBERT MEADLEY
Meeting Dr. Malthusian
C.E. MATTHEWS
In the Spirit of Enterprise
MICHAEL BUTTERWORTH
Hey, Mr. Pressman
GENEVIÈVE LAVERGNE
That Needlework
GARETH JACKSON
Numad
TESSA B. DICK
Seasons
JEFFREY FALLA
The Sword and the Tiger
TANTRA BENSKO
Catnip Pinata
RUUD ANTONIUS
J. P. Holmes, Junior
PARAMITA DUTTA
The First Time
AZIZ MUSTAFA
I was Latching on the Moon
NEHA SINHA
The Old Lady and the Sea
PHILIP MURRAY-LAWSON
Good Deed Day
MARLEEN BARR
Bedbugwoman
D. HARLAN WILSON
Dithyrambia
ANDREW DARLINGTON
My Little Black Egg
ELKIE RICHES
Most Women do not Creep by Daylight
SUSHMA JOSHI
The Zia Motel
JIM MATTHEWS
An Interview with Archibald Mansions
BILL ECTRIC
Doctor Waxwing’s Hotel of Rooms
MICHAEL G. CHIVERS
The Squalling Terror
CARTER KAPLAN
Cold Echoes (part III)
HORACE JEFFERY HODGES
The Uncanny Story

Verse
(in progress)

Themes

MARIELLE RISSE
Becoming the Buddhist Queen Elizabeth
HOLLY BAUMGARTNER
Eastern Promise
VITASTA RAINA
Writing Un-writing: A Theory of Time

Read More at HIGHBROW

AylettVison Goes Online

My edit of Steve Aylett’s LINT THE MOVIE can now be seen in its entirety HERE.

Starring Alan Moore, Stewart Lee, Josie Long, Steve Aylett, Robin Ince, Jeff Vandermeer, D Harlan Wilson, Andrew O’Neill, Vessel (Mister Solo/David Devant), Bill Ectric, Mitzi Szereto, Spencer Pate, Mo Ali and others, LINT THE MOVIE documents the life and work of cult SF author and philosopher Jeff Lint, creator of some of the strangest and most inconvenient works of the 20th century.

Featuring clips from Lint’s books, cartoons, music, comics and films, the movie follows the writer’s life from the days of vintage pulp, psychedelia, dangerous theater, and his disastrous scripts for Star Trek and Patton. Commentary by those who knew and read him create a compelling portrait of the creator of Clowns and Insects, Jelly Result, The Stupid Conversation, the Caterer comic, and Catty and the Major, the scariest kids’ cartoon ever aired. Based on Steve Aylett’s books ‘LINT’ and ‘And Your Point Is?’

http://www.steveaylett.com